Scouting Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech does not play the prettiest brand of basketball. It's wins come via force of will more than simply out-classing an opponent (sound familiar?). Take, for instance, this quote from Yellow Jackets sophomore forward Gani Lawal following Georgia Tech's 67-62 win over in-state rival Georgia on Tuesday night:
"That was kind of ugly," Lawal told reporters. "We came out kind of shaky, but we wanted to stick it out."
Forced to overcome the extended absence of one key player due to academic ineligibility and another due to a facial injury, Georgia Tech's play has been as inconsistent en route to a 9-5 record. The Yellow Jackets have beaten Vanderbilt and Georgia, but its losses have come against Penn State, Illinois-Chicago, Southern California, Virginia and Alabama. While those squads aren't absolutely horrible, they're not exactly pristine, either.
On Wednesday, I spoke over the phone with Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt, who said his team has suffered from not yet having two of its top performers on the court at the same time this season. As a result, the Yellow Jackets have had to make some unexpected adjustments that have stunted their development in some ways and expedited it in others.
Senior guard Lewis Clinch (6-foot-3, 196 lbs.) was declared academically ineligible for the first seven games of the season. When I had spoken to Hewitt in November, the coach said he expected Clinch to be one of the team's crucial components this season, due to his long-range shooting ability. Since Clinch returned to the lineup in mid-December, he has averaged 14.0 points per game while shooting 33.3 percent from the field and just 26.5 percent from three-point range.
Clinch "started off real fast and then you hit that lull after three or four games, and I expect him to start shooting the ball more consistently pretty soon," Hewitt said. "I just tell him to keep shooting."
The game prior to Clinch's return to the lineup, Georgia Tech lost sophomore guard Maurice Miller (6-foot-2, 185 lbs.) to a broken nose during a loss to Illinois-Chicago. Miller had been averaging 7.8 points and 5.7 assists per game. Though Miller was shooting just 24.1 percent from the field, it was his role as a distributor and as a floor general that Hewitt said the Yellow Jackets have missed the most. Miller's assist-to-turnover ratio stood at 2.62 prior to his injury.
With Miller out of the lineup, Hewitt moved freshman Iman Shumpert (6-foot-5, 200 lbs.) over to the point guard spot and junior Zachery Peacock (6-foot-8, 240 lbs.) from power forward to small forward.
Peacock has responded well to playing out of his natural position. He is averaging 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three-point range.
"He's made a great sacrifice for this team because at the end of last season I thought he and Mo Miller were our two best players, and he was very comfortable playing that power forward position," Hewitt said. "Because of injuries and different things, he's had to play more three for us this year. Now, the last two games, we've put him back to the four more. He's played some three, but more at the four and at the close of the game (against Georgia) he played the four exclusively. He's just a different player there; he's a much more effective player there.
"Obviously when Mo comes back, he'll go back to the four full-time. He tells me, 'Anytime you have a big guy who comes to you and tells you they want to play on the perimeter, tell them to come talk to me first because all the running around you've got to do guarding the guys and the ability to get easy offense is not there when you're on the perimeter.' He loves being at the four spot and when he's there, he arguably is our most valuable player."
As for Shumpert, Hewitt said the coaching staff already had planned on giving the freshman a fair share of responsibility this season. But they certainly didn't anticipate having to hand over to Shumpert the reins to the team's offense.
Shumpert is averaging 11.3 points and 6.4 assists in 32.0 minutes per game. He's shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range. On defense, he has acquired 22 steals.
"He has responded really well," Hewitt said. "We've gone through it; this is the third straight year we've had a freshman point guard heading into ACC play. And I think our other players have helped him because they watched Javaris Crittendon go through it; they watched Mo Miller go through it last year. And now they're watching Iman go through it, so he's probably had the best transition of all three because of the experience around him."
Hewitt said Miller was to return to practice Thursday and that Miller's status for Saturday's game would depend on his performance in practice Thursday and Friday. Miller will practice while wearing a face mask while his nose continues to heal.
While the Yellow Jackets have had to move parts around along the perimeter, their play in the interior has been relatively solid. Georgia Tech holds a +6.5 average rebounding margin, thanks in large part to the efforts of Lawal (6-foot-9, 233 lbs.) and senior forward Alade Aminu (6-foot-10, 225 lbs.).
Aminu has recorded 23 blocks and 20 steals while averaging 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He is shooting 57.1 percent from the field.
Lawal, meanwhile, is averaging a double-double of 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He has 15 blocks and is shooting 56.0 percent from the field.
"I thought there were times last year when (Lawal) just was in a little bit of a hurry instead of just kind of taking his time and letting the game come to him," Hewitt said Monday in the weekly ACC coaches teleconference. "I think he's doing a better job of that this year. On the offensive end, he's got a plan now when he catches that ball. People are starting to double team him a little bit more and while he had a little bit of a rocky start with that in terms of handling the double teams, he's starting to do better in that area, as well."
In general, Georgia Tech has struggled shooting the ball. The Yellow Jackets are shooting 45.5 percent from the field, but just 28.7 percent from the three-point line and 58.9 percent from the free-throw line.
"Well, we've got to get Lewis going," Hewitt said Wednesday. "Lewis is a guy who's capable of stringing together some big numbers on his own from behind the three-point line. I think the other thing is getting Mo Miller back will allow us to get Iman off the ball a little bit more. He's also a capable shooter, but having to run the point is taking away from some of that shooting. When (Miller) comes back into the lineup, you'll see our three-point shooting go back up."
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